Celtic Illumination, part 348, In it to win it.
With all the hanging around at airports the drivers would get together and swop stories. I can remember talking to one driver, he was an ex Royal Marine, and we were discussing how people used their holiday destination as a sort of social put down. There was a sort of pecking order; working class people went to Spain, middle class went to Tenerife while the more better off went to Cyprus. So every time someone would say to me, “Oh we’re off to Cyprus,” I would always say how much I loved the island. They were shocked that their driver, the bloody foreigner, had actually been to Cyprus. Suddenly their special destination wasn’t so exotic after all. The ex-marine told me that no matter where they said they were going, he always claimed to have been there himself. He loved pissing the passengers off, only if they needed it of course.
One fellow I picked up one night didn’t know where he was going. He said he had been watching a teletext service which was selling last minute holiday deals seriously cheap. Twenty minutes later he was in a Lugga Bus and heading for the airport. He wasn’t sure what part of the world he was off to but he had managed to find two weeks full board for fifty quid and as booze was thrown in, he was off to enjoy himself. I think that would have been my type of holiday. And we just didn’t move holiday makers; we had our regular business people. Civil servants who worked in Brussels and who came home Friday evening, returning to Brussels on Sunday evening. One regular passenger was a British Airways captain. This fellow was the captain of one of the regular London to Hong Kong flights.
He was an interesting chap and over time I learned that he had an apartment in Hong Kong, a house in Cyprus and a house in Southport. I remember him saying that his one true love was his Harley Davidson motorcycle in Hong Kong which he loved cruising around on. We got on well and were always chatting away. I mentioned to him that my career options had once been either airline pilot or dentist. I was surprised to hear him say that the last job I would have wanted would be as an airline pilot. You would think that with his different homes and playthings he would be happy but he said that as Captain he supervised the take-off in London, the computer and crew then took over while he slept. He would be woken up in time to supervise the landing in Hong Kong. He told me that for most of the time he was bored out of his skull.
It certainly makes you think, can you imagine spending all your life doing a job that you hated? I had no interest in driving the Lugga Bus, I was more interested in meeting the conveyor belt of weird and interesting people that was coming through my little bus. One evening I had been booked for a private party of three. They were flying in from Monte Carlo, I think it was the only time I ever saw passengers and thought, “Oh shit, I hope they are not mine.” The party of three consisted of a young man and woman, about thirty years of age, and an elderly woman, who was in a wheel chair with a heavily bandaged ankle. Nothing strange about that but they were all dressed as if they were in an Agatha Christie novel. The fellow wore a boater straw hat, cravat, cricket blazer and the women looked like flappers.
I collected my passengers and brought them out to the bus. The elderly woman insisted that she needed to stretch her leg out so therefore would sit in the front of the vehicle. I opened the rear door and showed her that if she sat in the rear of the vehicle she would have even more room to stretch out, but she insisted on sitting up front with me. We headed off and she began to tell me how exciting the casino in Monte Carlo was, I wondered if she had read Jeffrey’s book? There are certain areas of Southport where I would drive around just to look at the houses, they were so grand, it was a pleasure just to look at them. In fact during the winter months I would drive around looking at the light coming through the stained glass windows in all the various houses.
I was happy when we got to the first of the two houses I was going to. It was a huge house with marble pillars. The lady in the front asked if I would be a dear and help carry the cases in. I couldn’t wait, for here was my chance to get inside one of these fantastic houses and have a gander. The other couple got out and helped the elderly woman up the steps as I lugged the cases up. She opened the front door and went in. I followed in to the main hallway and began to look about. It was a large open space with a curved staircase in front of me, very classy. To my right was a sitting room where everything seemed to be white. To my left was another sitting type room where everything seemed to be floral. It looked as if it was something from a magazine, everything was perfect and in its place.
So despite the opulence it was a furnished house and not a home, it was a showpiece, it needed children and scuff marks on the skirting boards. The lady very generously gave me one pound and thanked me for my help. I suppose that’s why rich people have so much money, because they never give any of it away. We got back out to the van and loaded up. I set off for my second address and said that if their house was anything like the house we had just been in I wasn’t going to speak to them. They sighed and then laughed explaining that they were the staff and so relieved to get away from their boss. It was the boss who had made them dress up as they were. They complained that on the first evening the boss had twisted her ankle dancing and for the remainder of the holiday had demanded that at least one of them was on hand to provide support should she need it. In fact the fellow was swearing when he told me that at meal times the boss would be seated in whatever restaurant she had chosen for that evening, eating her meal, while one member of staff sat by the restaurant door in case she needed anything that could not be supplied by the normal serving staff.
But it didn’t matter what clothes people wore or what airs and graces they put on, they would always expose their social roots with the one question most of them would ask. Now I’m not talking about the standard issue question of, ‘How long have you been in our country driver?’ I am talking about after they had returned from their holiday, after we would have loaded them up and were heading off for their homes. If there was more than one party in the van they would have sorted themselves out, socially of course, where have you been, oh we’ve been to such and such, that makes us better than you. Then someone would lean forward, usually the woman, asking, ‘I don’t suppose you know what the winning lottery numbers are driver?’ It really did always make me smile, here they were playing their daft little British class game of I’m better than you are, yet they still had the standard common denominator of the fur coat and no knickers brigade.
I even had people complain that they had to go to a council estate in Liverpool before moving on up to Southport. They should have been honoured just to have me drive them, and I can remember one couple who were. I had to pick up a party from Liverpool and run them up to a holiday camp outside Southport. They had flown in from Belfast. I was looking forward to meeting some fellow Irish people. It was a mother and father with their twenty five year old son, who was blind, and his guide dog. I loaded them up, tweaked the accent a little so that they knew they were among their own and set off. We were chatting away but when we moved through some traffic lights I noticed the old blue flashing lights behind me. I pulled over and slowed down to allow the police car to overtake me and continue his pursuit of dangerous criminals, either that or he was late for his tea.
Seems that I wrong on both counts as he wanted to pull me over. I got the usual, ‘I’m not putting myself in danger standing here talking to you get out of your vehicle and come on to the pavement where I will deal with you.’ I apologised to my passengers and went around to speak to the copper. I was unsure why he had stopped me until he asked, “What does an amber traffic signal mean?’ ‘It means prepare to stop,’ I said. ‘No it doesn’t,’ he said. ‘It means stop.’ I didn’t reply, despite the fact that I was sure red meant stop. In his opinion I had continued driving through the traffic lights when they were amber, instead of stopping. It was when he said that as a professional driver I should have known better I explained that as a professional driver I had realised that if I had attempted to stop for the amber light, my passengers guide dog would have slid off the rear seat and I didn’t want to upset the animal or its owner for that matter.
The copper went over and checked out my story. He saw the guide dog, on the rear seat, gave me a telling off and then issued me with a FTC ticket, a Failure To Comply, a technical offence. I was then warned that if I was caught committing a similar offence within a certain period of time, the proverbial book would be thrown at me. I was released and allowed to continue on my way. The lovely couple asked me what I had been stopped for. I held up the ticket with the Letters FTC bold as brass on the top of the form. He had followed us for some time I explained and thought that my driving was so good that he had to stop me and award me a certificate for Fantastic Technical Control. They were so pleased to have such a good driver, and fellow Irish person, drive them to their holiday destination. I’m sure they told everyone they met about it.